When Way Bandy first enrolled in college, the Soviet Union just launched Sputnik 1 and “American Bandstand” made its debut on television.
Bandy dropped out to get married and raise three kids. He returned intermittently over the years but never finished. The last college course he took was in 1978, the same year “Grease” was a box office smash.
Bandy is now 81 and retired.
Before he left college, he made a promise to his parents and himself that he would return one day and earn his degree.
“When I told my parents that I wanted to get married, they said “Can’t you wait until you finish college?” and I said, ‘Well, hell no,’” because at that age you think you know everything, and of course I didn’t,” said Bandy. “But I did promise them that I will finish college one day. Both my parents are gone now but I intend to stick to my word.”
Bandy re-enrolled at the University of South Florida this fall semester, and is just one class away from earning a bachelor’s degree. He is taking his final course in Wetland Environments at USF St. Petersburg.
Bandy’s journey toward a college degree began in 1957, in his home state of Alabama. Over the next 20 years he would take courses at three universities and one junior college.
During this time, he and his wife, Nancy, would move from Alabama to St. Petersburg, FL and start a family. They raised two boys and a girl, all of whom went to college. Bandy spent his career in telecommunications, first at E Systems and then Florida Power, now called Progress Energy.
Some years after retiring, he became restless. And he remembered that personal goal and promise to his parents.
Since his education transcript was a collection of courses stretching back more than 60 years across multiple institutions, Bandy had no idea how many credits he needed to earn a degree. In July, he stopped by USF St. Petersburg and met academic advisor Julie Harding.
“Way had taken classes off and on in the USF System and other institutions over many years and we had to piece together a puzzle of what courses he had taken decades ago and where it all fit into our curriculum today,” explained Harding. “Basically, what degree was he closest in attaining based on what he had already completed.”
Harding sought out the assistance of several colleagues at USF Tampa, including Michelle Jenkins with the Muma College of Business and Keri Uravich with the Bachelor of General Studies program. They worked together to determine what degree his course work fit into and how many more classes he needed to complete.
On the very last day of fall 2019 registration, they came back with a surprising answer: one.
Bandy just needed to complete one course and he could earn a bachelor’s degree in General Studies, an interdisciplinary degree geared towards students who started their degree years ago. He enrolled in Wetland Environments, getting the last seat in the class.
“Julie and the other advisers in Tampa were able to compile this complicated mess for me, evaluated all of these transcripts and somehow figured it out and that it matched up with what the university required,” said Bandy. “I had no idea how many credits I needed for a degree, didn’t realize I was that close because of the different classes spread out across so many years and schools.”
Since returning to school, Bandy has picked up on a few changes at USF St. Petersburg and in higher education in general. For one, the campus has moved.
“When I first came back to campus, I went to the old barracks [the original location of the university and current site of the USF College of Marine Science and Florida Institute of Oceanography] looking for Admissions and they said ‘You aren’t even close,’” said Bandy, laughing.
He noted that everyone dresses a lot more casually and has more tattoos.
“It’s been challenging, both the coursework and the adjustment back into a classroom. Boy, has it ever. But the support and encouragement of people like Julie has continued me on this path,” said Bandy.
Support also came from his wife and children, who tell their friends about his journey back to college and how proud they are.
“I tell them to stop doing that,” quipped Bandy. “But people email me and tell me how impressive they think it is.”
In several weeks, Bandy will complete his final course and finally fulfill the promise he made to his parents and himself. And at Commencement this December, Bandy intends to walk that final stretch and grab a diploma more than 50 years in the making.